Facebook Oversight Board Upholds Trump Ban

In this photo illustration, a phone screen displays a Facebook logo with the official portrait of former US President Donald Trump on the background. PHOTO: OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP

 

Facebook’s independent oversight board on Wednesday upheld the platform’s ban on former US President Donald Trump but called for a further review of the case within six months.

The board, whose decisions are binding on the leading social network, said Trump “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible” with his comments regarding the January 6 rampage by his supporters at the US Capitol.

“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” the board said after its review.

But the panel added that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension” and called for the platform to “review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response” within six months.

“It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored,” the review board said in its written opinion.

AFP

Iran Renews Call To US To Lift All Sanctions Imposed By Trump

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

 

Iran on Friday renewed its call for the US to lift all sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump, after an offer for talks from new President Joe Biden’s administration.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran would “immediately reverse” its retaliatory measures if the US “unconditionally & effectively” lifts “all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump”.

The Biden administration on Thursday offered talks with Iran led by European allies and reversed two largely symbolic steps against Tehran imposed by Trump, as it sought to salvage a nuclear deal on the brink of collapse.

READ ALSO: Blasphemy: Italian Football Federation Fines Juventus Goalkeeper Buffon $6,000

Ahead of a Sunday deadline set by Iran for it to restrict some access to UN nuclear inspectors unless Trump’s sanctions are ended, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned jointly with European powers that the move would be “dangerous”.

Hours after Blinken’s videoconference with his French, British and German counterparts, the European Union political director, Enrique Mora, proposed via Twitter an “informal meeting” involving Iran — and the US accepted.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear programme,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The P5 — UN Security Council powers Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — plus Germany sealed the 2015 deal brokered by then-president Barack Obama under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear programme in exchange for promises of economic relief.

Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sweeping sanctions, aiming to bring Iran to its knees.

Zarif’s tweet did not explicitly address the Biden administration’s offer of talks. Iran has demanded an end to Trump’s sanctions before reversing protest measures it took away from full compliance.

A senior US official said the Biden administration was showing good faith and saw a meeting as the start of a “prolonged path” to restoring and building on the nuclear accord.

If Iran declines to meet, “I think it would be both unfortunate and at odds with their stated view that they want to come back if you come back.

“That’s not going to happen simply by one side telling the other one what to do,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Britain swiftly welcomed the proposed talks. “The UK will participate,” a spokesperson said.

– Reversing Trump steps –

Biden has insisted he will not remove Trump’s sanctions until Iran returns to compliance — but the administration Thursday undid two symbolic steps by the last administration.

In a letter to the United Nations, the United States said it no longer believed that the world body had “snapped back” sanctions on Iran.

Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo last year argued the United States was still a “participant” in the Security Council resolution that blessed the nuclear deal — despite withdrawing later — and therefore could reimpose sanctions.

The argument had been dismissed by the United Nations and close US allies at the time.

In his tweet, Zarif said Iran agreed with the Biden administration’s decision.

“US acknowledged Pompeo’s claims” regarding UN Security Council Resolution 2231 “had no legal validity. We agree,” Iran’s top diplomat wrote.

The Biden administration also reversed draconian curbs on Iranian diplomats in New York who were barred from all but a few blocks around the United Nations and their mission.

– Warning over inspections –

Under the terms of a bill adopted by its conservative-dominated parliament in December, Iran will restrict some inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency if the United States does not lift its sanctions imposed since 2018 by Sunday.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is to travel to Tehran on Saturday for talks with the Iranian authorities to find a solution.

A joint statement by the four foreign ministers after the virtual meeting convened by France urged “Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”

The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations for four decades but they began frequent contact to negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.

The nuclear accord was adamantly opposed by Iran’s regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia, which both enjoyed tight partnerships with Trump.

While Iran’s policy is ultimately determined by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian presidential elections in June add another time pressure factor.

Rouhani — a key advocate of nuclear diplomacy with global powers — is set to step down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms, and a more hardline figure is likely to replace him.

AFP

Leaked Audiotape: Outrage Over Trump’s Request To ‘Find’ Votes For Him In Georgia

President Donald Trump

The release on Sunday by US media of a stunning audiotape in which President Donald Trump pressured Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn his election defeat there to Democrat Joe Biden sent shockwaves across Washington.

The tape, a rebel push by scores of Republican lawmakers to challenge Biden’s electoral win later this week, a pair of runoff elections in Georgia to decide control of the US Senate and expected pro-Trump protests in Washington are combining to set the stage for a fiery week in American politics.

Lawmakers got back to work Sunday on Capitol Hill, where Democrat Nancy Pelosi was narrowly reelected as speaker of the House of Representatives, but the real political fireworks are to come later in the week.

READ ALSO: About 100 Killed In Niger Republic After Attack On Two Villages

Following the release of the recording, Democrats and a few Republicans heaped scorn on the outgoing president, who fired off a tweetstorm of unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the November 3 election.

The taped conversation between Trump and fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, first obtained by The Washington Post, includes vague threats by Trump that Raffensperger and another official could face “a big risk” if they failed to take moves toward overturning Biden’s victory.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated” the vote tally, Trump is heard saying on the tape. “You’re off by hundreds of thousands of votes.”

Raffensperger is heard responding: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”

Biden won the long Republican-leaning state by fewer than 12,000 votes — a narrow margin, but one that has remained unchanged through a series of recounts and audits.

“The current margin is only 11,779. Brad, I think you agree with that, right?” Trump says. “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes.”

Making Trump’s call more surprising is the fact that even a hypothetical reversal in Georgia, which has 16 Electoral College votes, would not overturn victory by Biden, who won by a margin of 306 to 232.

Ahead of the release of the audio, Trump tweeted about the call, saying that Raffensperger “was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more.”

Raffensperger tweeted back, also ahead of the release of the audio, saying: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”

After the release, the White House declined to comment.

Democrats reacted furiously.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris slammed it as “the voice of desperation” and a “bald-faced, bold abuse of power by the President of the United States” during a rally in Savannah, Georgia.

One moderate Republican, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, tweeted: “This is absolutely appalling. To every member of Congress considering objecting to the election results, you cannot — in light of this — do so with a clean conscience.”

 

– Key elections in Georgia –

It was unclear what impact the tape’s release might have on the twin runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday, which will decide who controls the US Senate.

Both Trump and Biden are due to appear at rallies in the southern state on Monday.

Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are facing off against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

Victory by Ossoff and Warnock would give Democrats, and Biden, a major boost — Senate seats would be evenly divided between the parties at 50 each, but incoming Vice President Harris would wield a tie-breaking vote. Democrats already control the House.

“This is going to be a very tough battle but it is absolutely within the realm of possibility — in fact, the realm of likelihood — the Democrats can win,” Stacey Abrams, the charismatic former Georgia lawmaker who has emerged as a party leader, told CNN on Sunday.

 

– ‘Time to move forward’ –

News of the Trump tape came hours after the US Congress opened its new session Sunday.

Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman in the history of US politics, will serve another term as speaker of the House after her reelection.

Congress will convene in a rare joint session on Wednesday to certify Biden’s election result — but it will not be the usual dry pro forma affair.

So far, 12 Republican senators loyal to Trump have announced plans to block certification, instead demanding the formation of a special commission to do an “emergency” election audit.

With Democrats controlling the House and many Senate Republicans expected to confirm Biden’s victory, the rebel effort is all but certain to fail, but it has raised tensions on Capitol Hill.

It has also underscored a sharp divide within the president’s party, as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has asked his caucus to respect the Electoral College result.

Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate, called the campaign an “egregious ploy” that served only to “enhance the political ambition of some.”

He and a bipartisan coalition of senators on Sunday called on Congress to certify the result, saying: “The 2020 election is over… It is time to move forward.”

Pro-Trump protesters not quite willing to concede are expected to rally in Washington on Wednesday.

Trump, who has urged thousands to support his cause, tweeted Sunday: “I will be there. Historic day!”

AFP

Biden, Trump To Campaign In Georgia On Eve Of Crucial Senate Elections

JIM WATSON, SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump will be holding dueling campaign rallies in Georgia on Monday, the eve of a pair of crucial Senate runoff elections in the southern state.

Biden, 78, announced on Wednesday that he would travel to the Georgia capital Atlanta to campaign for Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Trump, 74, had previously announced that he would be in the town of Dalton on Monday night for a rally in support of the Republican candidates, incumbent senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

Tuesday’s runoff election featuring Ossoff against Perdue and Warnock against Loeffler will determine which party has control of the Senate.

Both races are tight with polls showing the candidates neck and neck.

Republicans currently hold 50 seats in the Senate and a victory in just one of the Georgia races will give them a majority and the ability to hamstring Biden’s agenda after he takes office on January 20.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Five Things To Know About Landmark UK Vaccine

If Democrats win the two Senate seats they will also have 50 seats plus a vice president, Kamala Harris, who can cast tie-breaking votes.

Harris is to visit the Georgia city of Savannah on Sunday to campaign for Ossoff and Warnock.

Georgia has been reliably Republican but Biden narrowly defeated Trump there in the November 3 presidential election, becoming the first Democrat to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Murder Convict Brandon Bernard Executed Despite Appeal, Petitions By 500,000 Persons

This undated image from Brandon Bernard’s Defense Team shows death row inmate Brandon Bernard. Bernard, 40, is currently housed at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Thursday

 

A convicted murderer died by lethal injection on Thursday as the administration of President Donald Trump carries out a series of federal executions in its waning days in power, ignoring calls for clemency and Covid-19 outbreaks behind bars.

Brandon Bernard, a 40-year-old African-American inmate, was put to death at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, for his role in a 1999 double murder in Texas committed when he was 18 years old.

More than 500,000 people had signed petitions urging Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison, citing his age at the time of the crime and his good behavior as an inmate.

READ ALSO: Ellen Degeneres Tests Positive For Coronavirus But ‘Feeling Fine’

Among those lending their support to Bernard was reality television star, Kim Kardashian.

“At just a few months past 18 his brain was still developing,” Kardashian said. “While Brandon did participate in this crime, his role was minor compared to that of the other teens involved, two of whom are home from prison now.”

Bernard and four other Black teenagers were convicted of abducting youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley, a white couple from Iowa. They forced them to withdraw cash before eventually shooting and burning them in their car.

Because the crime took place on a US military base it was tried in federal court.

The shooter, then-19-year-old Christopher Vialva, and Bernard, who lit the car on fire, were sentenced to death in 2000.

“Brandon made one terrible mistake at age 18. But he did not kill anyone, and he never stopped feeling shame and profound remorse for his actions in the crime that took the lives of Todd and Stacie Bagley,” his lawyer Robert C. Owen said in a statement after his death.

Vialva was executed by lethal injection in September but other participants who were under the age of 17 at the time avoided the death penalty.

Without a last-minute reprieve, Bernard became the ninth federal inmate to be executed since July, when the Trump administration resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus.

Despite Trump’s defeat in the November 3 presidential election — which he has refused to concede — his administration plans to carry out more federal executions before he leaves office.

For 131 years, outgoing presidents traditionally suspended federal executions during the transition period.

 

– Kim Kardashian Asks Trump For Clemency –

One of the major voices pleading for clemency, Kim Kardashian had earlier on Wednesday called on President Donald Trump to commute Brandon’s death sentence.

The reality television star, who is studying to be a lawyer in California, has used her influence to try to sway criminal justice matters before.

“I’m calling on @realDonaldTrump  to grant Brandon (Bernard) a commutation and allow him to live out his sentence in prison,” Kardashian tweeted.

Kardashian has previously pushed for the release of incarcerated people whose guilt is sometimes in doubt, though this time she does not dispute Bernard’s involvement in the 1999 murder of two pastors.

“While Brandon did participate in this crime, his role was minor compared to that of the other teens involved, two of whom are home from prison now,” Kardashian said, adding that “at just a few months past 18 his brain was still developing.”

In 1999, Bernard and several other teenagers kidnapped Todd and Stacey Bagley to force them to withdraw cash, before eventually shooting and burning them in their car.

Some of Bernard’s fellow attackers were under 17 and so avoided the death penalty.

Because the assault took place on a military base, the shooter, then-19-year-old Christopher Vialva, and Bernard, who lit the car on fire, were both sentenced to death by a federal court in 2000.

Trump: Biden Won Because The Election Was Rigged

File photo of US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Donald Trump appeared to edge closer towards acknowledging his election defeat in a tweet on Sunday morning, as he again railed against supposed mass fraud in the vote won by challenger Joe Biden.

“He won because the Election was Rigged. NO VOTE WATCHERS OR OBSERVERS allowed, vote tabulated by a Radical Left privately owned company,” Trump tweeted in his clearest yet admission of defeat.

 

 

Trump has refused to concede the election, and repeatedly said he intended to overturn the result through legal cases — though no evidence of mass fraud in the November 3 election has been found.

But the first two words of his Sunday tweet — two days after a slip in which he said “time will tell” if he remains president — seemed to bring him another step closer to admitting defeat.

READ ALSO: Trump Supporters March In Washington To Contest US Election Results

Thousands of Trump supporters rallied in Washington on Saturday, backing his claims of fraud, with clashes erupting in the evening with rival protesters.

At least 20 people were arrested, reports said, including four for firearm violations and one for assault on a police officer.

Trump himself made a drive-past of the rally in his armored motorcade, on his way to play golf, smiling through his limousine window to wild cheers and signs saying “Best prez ever” and “Trump 2020: Keep America Great.”

Many of Trump’s tweets over the weekend alleging the election was rigged against him have been tagged by Twitter as containing “disputed” information.

AFP

Trump, Biden To Visit 9/11 Memorial Site

This combination of file photos shows US President Donald Trump (L) speaking to the media prior to departing from the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2020. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB, Ronda Churchill / AFP

 

President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden will today visit the crash site in the key election state of Pennsylvania of one of the planes hijacked during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

Both men will seek to take advantage of the solemn moment to appear as leaders seeking to heal a deeply divided nation.

For the 19th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda terror attacks, Biden — who has recently stepped up his campaign after weeks of keeping a low profile due to the coronavirus pandemic — will make two public appearances.

Friday morning, he will be in New York City for the annual event honoring the almost 3,000 people who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Then he will travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where an airliner crashed after the passengers tried to wrest control of the plane from the Al-Qaeda hijackers.

Biden is not expected to speak at the Ground Zero ceremony in Manhattan, an event traditionally reserved for families of the victims, who this year have pre-recorded their contributions.

His mere presence, however, will attract attention at an event that is broadcast live on the main US television networks and is punctuated by minutes of silence, the first one at 8:46 am (1246 GMT), the time that the first plane hit one of the Twin Towers.

Trump will be absent from the memorial in his native New York, but he will be represented by Vice President Mike Pence.

The Republican president could steal the show from Biden, as he will be at a commemoration in Shanksville, some 300 miles to the west of New York.

There is no chance of the two rivals crossing paths in Pennsylvania: Trump and his wife Melania are due to leave Shanksville in the morning after the memorial, while Biden and his wife Jill will not arrive at the site until the afternoon.

‘Scoring points’

Neither of these appearances will feature any of the political showmanship according to Robert Shapiro, a political scientist at Columbia University. The 9/11 ceremonies are traditionally “free of rhetoric, dedicated to paying tribute to victims” of the attacks, he said.

The ceremonies will nevertheless be closely followed by the media, and offer Biden and Trump a chance to “show their leadership and empathy.”

“There will be a temporary silencing of the more vitriolic rhetoric they are using against each other,” Shapiro said.

The choice of both candidates to show up in Pennsylvania, an important state to win in the presidential election, illustrates the “obvious calculations” their advisors have made.

Long a Democratic stronghold and Biden’s home state, Pennsylvania swung narrowly to Trump in the 2016 election, helping him secure his surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Polls show Trump and Biden nearly even in Pennsylvania, and Democrats hope to win the state back in the November 3 vote.

But if the somber commemorations mark a “truce,” it is likely to be a short-lived one, as was the case in 2016.

Clinton took part in the New York memorial but left the event early because she was feeling ill. Her doctor later revealed he had diagnosed her two days earlier with pneumonia, which she had kept secret.

Trump leaped on the incident and for weeks mercilessly mocked his rival’s health.

AFP

Border Wall Has ‘Stopped Everything’ Including COVID-19, Says Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bill singing ceremony with his economic team in the Rose Garden at the White House June 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House June 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

 

President Donald Trump paid a visit to Arizona on Tuesday to mark the completion of hundreds of miles of the wall along the US-Mexico border, claiming it has “stopped everything” including COVID-19.

“Our border has never been more secure,” said Trump, who made cracking down on illegal immigration a linchpin of his 2016 presidential campaign.

“This is the most powerful and comprehensive border wall structure anywhere in the world,” Trump said at a roundtable briefing in Yuma on border security before a visit to a section of the wall. More than 200 miles (322 kilometres) of the wall has been built.

“It has technology that nobody would even believe, between sensors and cameras and everything else,” he said.

Trump said at least 450 miles of wall would be completed by the end of the year and “we’ll be very close to 500 miles.”

He also said the border wall has cut back on human trafficking and drug smuggling from Mexico and helped prevent a “coronavirus catastrophe on the southern border.”

“It stopped COVID, it stopped everything,” Trump said.

The past two months have seen the “lowest number of illegal border crossings in many years,” he added.

Trump’s visit to Arizona comes as the southwest state reported a record 3,591 cases of COVID-19 and a high of 42 deaths.

The trip to Arizona is taking place three days after Trump visited Tulsa, Oklahoma, to hold his first campaign rally since the pandemic began.

AFP

Court Set To Rule On Trump’s Attempt To Stop Aide’s Damning Book

File Photo: US President Donald Trump and his former aide John Bolton.

 

A judge weighed President Donald Trump’s last-ditch bid Friday to stop former top aide John Bolton’s bombshell book from publication, but with much of the damning contents already out there was little hope for the White House.

“It certainly looks difficult to me about what I can do about those books all over the country,” Judge Royce Lamberth said at a hearing in Washington, DC, federal court, referring to copies of “The Room Where it Happened” that have already been distributed and dissected in the media.

The Justice Department had sought the emergency hearing to halt the official publication on Tuesday. But shipments have already been made to warehouses across the United States and other countries, while Bolton himself has embarked on a series of media interviews to promote the work.

“The horse, as we used to say in Texas, seems to be out of the barn,” Lamberth said.

The judge did not say when he would rule on the government’s request for an injunction.

The government argues that Bolton, the ex-national security advisor, violated secrecy laws because “The Room Where it Happened” did not get proper vetting.

Deputy assistant attorney general David Morrell said Bolton agreed not to publish a book with classified information “without written authorization.”

“In exchange for money he has broken that promise,” Morrell said. “He should not be rewarded.”

Bolton’s side argues for freedom of speech, saying that the manuscript was in fact put through extensive examination by the White House, which simply didn’t like the contents.

Trump ‘Pleading’ With China

The book is Bolton’s portrait of Trump after seeing him up close for 17 months before the former aide was ousted in September.

The picture — which Trump says is “fiction” — is ugly.

According to Bolton, a lifelong Republican who stands firmly on the right of the party, Trump is not “fit for office.”

He describes Trump “pleading” with Chinese President Xi Jinping during trade negotiations to boost his chances of re-election this November.

And he claims that Trump, a real estate tycoon who never held office before winning the White House, was so ignorant that he thought Finland was part of Russia.

Bolton also backs up the allegations at the center of Trump’s impeachment last year that he pressured Ukraine to try and dig up dirt to weaken his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.

Not only this, but Trump committed other “Ukraine-like transgressions” in his wielding of foreign policy for personal gain, Bolton alleges.

The sensationally blunt appraisal from someone who had that level of access has rocked the White House when the president is already mired in criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and race tensions.

Bolton finds himself shunned both by Republicans, who see him as a saboteur, and by Democrats, who blame him for not coming forward earlier — particularly when he had a chance to testify in the impeachment.

The backlash from Trump loyalists and the president himself has been savage. The government could still seek to force Bolton to surrender proceeds or even file charges against him.

Trump called him “a sick puppy,” a “boring fool” and a “washed-up guy.”

“Said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him,” he tweeted Wednesday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo branded Bolton “a traitor.”

“John Bolton is spreading a number of lies, fully-spun half-truths and outright falsehoods,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Trump Threatens To Pull Out Of WHO Over COVID-19 Response, China

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 25, 2020 US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in New Delhi. Mandel NGAN / AFP.

 

President Donald Trump has threatened to pull the US out of the World Health Organization, accusing it of botching the global coronavirus response and of being a “puppet of China.”

The American leader has been locked in a bitter spat with Beijing, alleging it covered up the initial outbreak in central China late last year before the disease unleashed death and economic devastation across the planet.

More than 317,000 people have died of COVID-19 out of nearly 4.8 million infections worldwide, and governments are scrambling to contain the virus while seeking ways to resuscitate their hammered economies.

With more fatalities and cases in the United States than any other country by far, under-pressure Trump has blamed the WHO for not doing enough to combat its initial spread.

“They’re a puppet of China, they’re China-centric to put it nicer,” he said on Monday at the White House. “They gave us a lot of bad advice.”

Trump had already suspended US funding to the UN body, and after his White House comments, he tweeted a letter he had sent to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus threatening to make that freeze permanent.

“It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world,” the letter said.

“The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China,” it added, giving the body 30 days to show “substantive improvements.”

Before the threat, the WHO had promised an independent review of its pandemic response.

READ ALSO:  WHO To Review COVID-19 Response As Trump Renews Attack

Beijing has furiously denied the US allegations that it played down the threat, and Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated at the World Health Assembly that his nation had been “transparent” throughout the crisis.

As he launched his latest attack on China, Trump also dropped a bombshell saying he was taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that his own government’s experts have said is not suitable for fighting the coronavirus.

“I take a pill every day,” said the president, adding that he is using it because he has “heard a lot of good stories.”

– ‘A test from God’ –

Experts have warned that the social distancing measures that have impacted more than half of humanity will remain necessary to stop the virus until a vaccine or viable medical treatment is available.

Development work on a prophylactic is under way at breakneck speed around the world, and results from a trial in the United States sparked optimism on Monday.

Early — and small — clinical trials of a vaccine by US firm Moderna showed encouraging results, with recipients showing an immune response similar to people recovering from COVID-19. It will begin a larger second-phase trial soon.

In China, meanwhile, scientists at Peking University have said they are developing a drug that can help stop the pandemic without a vaccine by using antibodies that can neutralize the virus.

They are planning clinical trials for the treatment, and are hoping to have the drug available later this year and in time for any potential winter outbreak.

Authorities around the world are keeping an eye on such breakthroughs as the virus continues on its destructive path, with many poorer nations now seeing a dramatic rise in infections even as the caseload eases in more developed parts of the world like Europe.

In Indonesia, gravediggers at a cemetery earmarked for COVID-19 victims in the capital Jakarta are struggling to keep up with the number of corpses arriving every day, trying not to touch the bodies and lessen the chance of getting infected themselves.

“I’ve been digging graves for 33 years now and I’ve never been this tired before,” said gravedigger Minar.

“This is probably a test from God.”

– Violence in Chile –

The vast economic damage caused by the virus has led to unprecedented emergency stimulus measures by governments and central banks, and the latest came from Europe where France and Germany laid out a half-trillion-euro fund.

The hard-hit continent has seen deaths and hospitalizations drop in recent days, sparking optimism about a post-pandemic recovery.

The daily death count in the United States has also slowed over the last couple of days, as all 50 states began easing lockdown measures to varying degrees.

But other parts of the world — especially developing countries — are only just starting to feel the full force of the virus.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday many governments had ignored WHO recommendations.

“As a result, the virus has spread across the world and is now moving into the Global South, where its impact may be even more devastating,” he warned.

Already, Brazil has overtaken Britain to have the third-highest number of infections in the world with around 255,000 confirmed cases, and the death toll in Latin America and the Caribbean has topped 30,000.

In Chile, where the government has imposed strict distancing measures in some areas after a dramatic rise in cases, the economic pressure from lockdowns was brought into sharp focus as violence erupted in a crowded, poor area on the outskirts of the capital Santiago.

Angry residents wielding sticks erected barricades and threw rocks at riot police, who fought back with tear gas and water cannon.

“It is not because of the quarantine,” resident Veronica Abarca told AFP.

“It is aid, food, what people are asking for right now.”

AFP

Trump Backtracks On Scrapping Of White House Coronavirus Task Force

FUS President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference on COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, March 13, 2020. Trump is declaring coronavirus a national emergency. SAUL LOEB / AFP.

 

President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to backtrack on plans announced the previous day to shut down the task force advising him on the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House’s earlier suggestion that the high-level team could close around the start of June was Trump’s latest signal that he thinks it’s time to move on from the health crisis and reopen the economy.

But in a series of tweets Wednesday, he said the task force had been so successful that it “will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”

The president, however, said that he could “add or subtract people” to the group, which suggested the situation remained fluid.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the task force, said Tuesday he was “starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window” for shutting it down. That holiday falls on May 25.

READ ALSO: Trump Relaunches Campaign With Vaccine Promise, Vision Of ‘Incredible’ Future

The coronavirus task force has spearheaded the complex response to the fast-spreading virus, which has already killed more than 70,000 Americans.

The group coordinates between medical institutes, political staff and state governors, some of whom have spent weeks frantically trying to help overwhelmed hospitals.

The task force also drew on medical experts to formulate national recommendations on social distancing that led to the economic shutdown.

Members of the task force gave daily press conferences meant to inform the nation on the latest status of the pandemic. But they were often overtaken by Trump’s own freewheeling question-and-answer sessions and ended more than a week ago.

Trump says that while he wants a “safe” reopening, the hardship caused by the economic shutdown is the main threat to the United States.

“We can’t keep our country closed for the next five years,” he said Tuesday while on a trip to a mask-making factory in Arizona.

He conceded that some people would be “badly affected” by loosening the practice of social distancing.

Critics say that the health situation remains far from secure and that Trump is rushing to try and boost the devastated economy in time for his difficult reelection battle in November.

AFP

Trump Signs Executive Order To Keep Meat Processing Plants Open

In this file photo US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during a "Keep America Great" campaign rally at Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey, January 28, 2020.
In this file photo, US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up during a “Keep America Great” campaign rally at Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey, January 28, 2020.

 

President Donald Trump will sign an executive order compelling meat packing plants to stay open, despite a string of coronavirus deaths, in a bid to secure US food supplies, the White House said Tuesday.

“President Trump is signing an Executive Order providing the authority to ensure the continued supply of beef, pork, and poultry to the American people,” the White House said in a statement.

“Under the order, the Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible.”

The statement added that the processing plants will be fully compliant with the CDC guidelines on health and safety during the pandemic.

Trump had said earlier in the White House that the details of order were being drawn up for signing but gave no specifics.

The facilities, where animals are slaughtered and processed into food sold in shops, have long struggled with safety and sanitary issues.

Facing alarming rates of the novel coronavirus among workers in the often tightly packed work spaces, some suppliers have closed down.

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As warnings mount that stores will run out, Trump will invoke the Defense Production Act to compel the meatpacking businesses to keep working.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the nation’s largest meatpacking union, said more safety precautions were needed.

“At least 20 meatpacking workers have tragically died from coronavirus while more than 5,000 workers have been hospitalized or are showing symptoms,” UFCW President Marc Perrone said in a statement.

“While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first,” he added.

“Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers.”

Last week, meatpacking giant Tyson Foods announced the temporary closure of its plant in Pasco, Washington state, which it says usually produces enough beef in a day for four million people.

A big pork plant in South Dakota run by Smithfield Foods and two JBS cattle slaughterhouses are among the others to have shut their doors.

AFP